Goodbye Lio!

The grapes are clustered juicily on their stem. The vines are ready for their vendemmia but the hands that tended them for so many years will never pick them again. Those hands have gone to another vineyard, God’s own.

Lio Lucchesi, long-term resident of Longoio, after a short illness died on the 15th of this month. I attended his funeral yesterday.

The smaller the community the greater the impact of that fate we must all attend at the end of our lives – the one-way journey to a land so distant that no face-to-face meeting can possibly be attempted while we who remain have their legs still firmly on this earth.

Lio was one of the first locals I’d met when I arrived in Longoio and I found him a convivial person with a very racy sense of humour. Often this humour was, I feel, used to disguise a rather more serious person. It was perhaps a mask for covering some of the pain in his life. One aspect of this may have been his batchelorhood. I was surprised at this since Lio had an endearing way of getting along with women of all ages. I just wonder why he never found the right companion or whether he never had the certainty of choosing the right one. He would have made a very good father.

With Lio I embarked on several organised coach journeys covering different areas of Italy and often lasting some days. I was keen to discover new parts of the country, especially when I decided to settle here permanently here over eleven years ago.

One of the journeys I remember was to the north-east part of Italy and beyond.  We visited Trieste where this photograph of Lio was taken on the waterfront of that wonderful mittel-european city:

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We also visited the battlefields and war graves on the eastern front. This was taken in the bar near the monumental Redipuglia First World War memorial.

This one shows a somewhat dubious Lio on the little train that rushes at break-neck speed through the immense caves of Postumia, formerly Italian but now in Slovenia.

There are doubtless other photographs, including some of a trip to Naples and the royal palace of Caserta but I’ll have to spend more time looking through the photographs I have.

My wife and I last spoke to Lio last summer when he was resting from his labours on his beloved vines. He spoke cordially to us and especially thanked us for having time to talk to him. The jokey sense had been somewhat diluted and I felt that a shadow had already fallen on him. Lio had previously jested that he’d sold his vineyard but I’m glad he still kept onto his passion until the very end. For some days Lio was confined to his bed in Longoio’s Piazza dell’Amicizia. Relatives then took him to ‘la Vigna’ (appropriately translated as, ‘the vineyard’), a large house a little distance outside Longoio towards La Serra.

Around 6 am on the 15th of this month Lio’s condition worsened and a Misericordia ambulance was called. Shortly after ten on the same day he’d left us for ever at ‘la Vigna’

The funeral was well-attended with many relatives and friends being able to be present. (Italian funerals occur rarely more than three days after the death of a person because Italian undertakers do not embalm the body). Something I found strange, however, and which our local parish priest, Don Franco, also noted, was that there were quite a few people waiting outside the church where there were still many seats available. I recognised two of them as being Jehovah’s Witnesses, for which attendance outside a Catholic church is normal in the case of funerals, but I couldn’t believe everyone waiting outside the church was of that persuasion. Never mind. At least they were near Lio for his last journey.

Goodbye Lio old boy! You’re another one of that traditional country-man stock which is literally fast-dying out of our part of the world taking away some of the history of this part of the world for ever. We’ll truly miss seeing you again and we’ll always wish we’d recorded some of the traditional songs you used to sing in the piazza of Longoio – those improvised ‘stornelli’, for example, which you would sing and make up with delicious gusto.

For how long will your chair remain empty now and for how long will your grapes have to wait for devoted hands to pick them now that you are in the hands of God himself? God only knows, dear Lio!

 

 

 

Journey towards the Centre of the Earth

Because of its large areas of limestone Italy has some of the most spectacular cave systems in the world. It’s reckoned, for example, that the cavities inside the Apuan Alps which rise to the west of our Serchio valley are some of the most extensive anywhere on Earth (or rather, in Earth!). Anyone who has been to this part of the world and missed taking at least one of the three separate itineraries inside the Grotta Del Vento is truly missing something exceptional.

The Grotta Del Vento’s web site is at http://www.grottadelvento.com/ENG/home.aspx.

Italian speleologists, true experts in their field, have done much to discover and explore unknown cave systems; it is terrible that two of them out of an expedition of four,  Oskar Piazza and Gigliola Mancinelli, have lost their lives, as a result of the Nepal earthquake.

Those caves with some of the largest natural halls in the world are in an area which was formerly Italian but which was lost after the treaties concluding World War II. They are the caves of Postumia, now in Slovenia and locally known as “Postojnska jama”.

The area round the caves is exceptionally pretty.

Postumia caves extend for twenty kilometres and have been known since they were inhabited by humans in prehistoric times, although they were only described for the first time in the eighteenth century. In 1884 Postumia were the first caves in the world to be lit by electricity and have ever since proved to be a very popular tourist attraction. I was lucky to have visited them in April 2007 (when this post’s photographs were taken) and my wife had visited them when they were still in Yugoslavia.

The photographs of long departed royalty show some of the visitors who preceded us in the last century.

A railway inside the caves was installed in 1872 and Postumia are the only caves to have one. Here is an example of former rolling stock.

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The system has, clearly, since been updated and we seated ourselves comfortably in open carriages ready for our ride into the bowels of the earth which was taken at, what seemed to me, break-neck speed. I would have liked it to be rather slower so that I could appreciate the limestone formations more clearly.

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Here are three videos of that journey:

We did, however, have ample time to admire the amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations, some of which were of massive dimensions, during the second, walking, part of our itinerary.

The caves house two unique species of fauna: a blind amphibian called Proteus Anquinus with a pretty pink coloration, and a beetle, Leptodirus Hohenwart, presumably blind too.

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I wasn’t impressed by the food at the restaurant at the entrance to the caves, although the ambience was rather baronial. Was it mediocre catering or was Slovenian food just not as tasty as Italian cuisine?

The caves’ temperature is a constant eight degrees with high humidity so bring some warmer clothes if you are visiting them in summer!

More information is available at the caves’ web site at http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/